Wakeup Call: Stern's about to put the Heat on San Antonio


Wakeup Call: Stern's about to put the Heat on San Antonio

Here's your wakeup call -- a combination of newsworthy andor interesting tidbits -- for Friday, November 30.

For the 10th straight year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is voted NASCAR's Most Popular Driver. (AP)

So the Nationals finally snag their long-sought-after center fielderleadoff hitter. (CSN Washington)

Next question: What do they do at first base? And does yesterday's trade pave the way for Adam LaRoche to find his way to Boston? (CSN Washington)

While you were sleeping, the Mets and David Wright agreed to an eight-year, 138 million contract. (AP)

Don't know exactly what happened to stop the Wilton Lopez-to-Philadephia trade, but something did. (CSN Philly)

Looking for a young, once-promising pitcher? If you can overlook the 6.89 ERA, Jair Jurrjens should be available in less than 24 hours. (NBC's Hardball Talk)

For the first time since the 1960 World Series -- or thereabouts -- the Pirates got the best of the Yankees. (AP)

Kentucky learns, yet again, that it's a new year, courtesy of Notre Dame this time. (AP)

Just a bad day all around for Connecticut. First the Huskies are snubbed once more by the ACC, then they almost lose to New Hampshire. (AP)

Suspended Missouri guard Michael Dixon leaves the team after two sexual-assualt charges against him become public. (AP)

Honey Badger's days at LSU are over. Next stop -- he hopes -- is the NFL. (NBC's College Football Talk)

Monte Kiffen decides to stay one step ahead of the posse and leave his son's coaching staff at USC. (AP)

Looks like Georgia Tech is headed to a bowl game, win or lose Saturday. (College Football Talk)

Louisville beats Rutgers, earning a berth in a BCS bowl, in a battle of lame-duck Big East programs. (AP)

There are one million reasons -- exactly -- why NHL owners a) aren't saying anything about the lockout and b) emphatically deny anything attributed to them that strays from JacobsBettmanDaly-speak (CSN Bay Area)

So San Antonio sends four starters -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Danny Green -- home to rest while the rest of the team goes to Miami for a nationally televised game against the defending NBA champions. The fact that the Spurs kept it close before falling to the Heat, 105-100, hasn't stopped waves of integrity-of-the-game criticisms from crashing down on coach Gregg Popovich. (AP)

And something else is about to fall on them, too: David Stern's disciplinary hammer. (NBC's Pro Basketball Talk)

There was a double ceremony at the buzzer last night in Oakland. But when the dust settled, the Warriors', not the Nuggets', was the one that counted. (AP)

Now this is how replay is supposed to work! (Pro Basketball Talk)

Brook Lopez sprained his right foot in the Nets' win over the Celtics and will miss a couple of games. (AP)

Andrew Bogut, meanwhile, won't even begin to guess when he'll play again. (AP)

Who was that guy wearing No. 9 for the Saints last night against the Falcons, and what did he do with Drew Brees? (AP)

Joe Flacco admits what everyone else has been thinking from the moment the play ended: He would have looked like "a big-time idiot" for dumping off a five-yard pass to Ray Rice on fourth-and-29 had Rice -- and the Chargers' matador defense -- not bailed him out Sunday. (CSN Baltimore)

According to Jason Babin, his new team, 2-9 Jacksonville, is "about to blossom" while the team he just left, 3-8 Philadelphia, may "ultimately get worse before they get better". (CSN Philly) Lucky thing the Eagles dumped you then, eh, Jason?

Even the Eagles players are recommending replacements for Andy Reid. (NBC's Pro Football Talk)

Amidst all the controversy in Philadelphia, Michael Vick continues to fail concussion tests. (AP)

Alex Smith goes all Drew Bledsoe in his first public comments since it was announced Colin Kaepernick has his old job. (CSN Bay Area)

So now we know why Titus Young is a non-person in Detroit. And it sure makes sense. (Pro Football Talk)

Apparently, Ndamukong Suh could have saved 10 grand by merely kicking Matt Schaub in the head. (Pro Football Talk)

Yeah, I guess Viagra is a PED. But on the football field? (AP)

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault


Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.


Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.


McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges.